New Jersey to Vermont to San Francisco to Seattle, D.W. has always had a sketchbook in hand. Newly in print from Fantagraphics, Mountebank is a printed version of a systemized sketchbook full of intricacies, patterns, mysteries and small goofy animals. D.W. talks to CYA about Mountebank, Center for Cartoon Studies, Irene Comics, changes of scenery and what's next.
CYA: How does it feel to have years worth of work printed in full with the release of Mountebank?
DW: It feels good! I remember vividly where I was when I started work on Mountebank. I remember the project I was wrapping up, and how I viewed Mountebank as a respite from and response to that project, and how it felt to make those initial marks on the first page of Mountebank, and how I felt about the first dozen or so pages when they were done. I remember the person I was dating at the time and the apartment where I was living. I remember day-to-day life in San Francisco, in my neighborhood and at my job, carrying Mountebank around with me for two years and working on it during my breaks or for hours-long stretches at the coffee shop on my mornings off. I never leave home without something to read and something to draw with and on, and Mountebank (the original sketchbook) was my resolute companion those two years. Now that sketchbook is in your hands as it was in mine. Crack it open and pretend that you happened upon me and it in flagrante in the breakroom or coffee shop. Lean in for a look-see. Touch and sniff the pages. I will pull up a chair for you and indulge all of your curiostity and enthusiasm. Let’s share something.
CYA: Are the sketchbooks that resulted in the release the longest you've ever maintained?
DW: In terms of complexity of system, unity of concept and degree of organization, discipline, and commitment — yes. I learned more from and accomplished more with this sketchbook than with any other individual project I’ve undertaken in art or life. I’m doing better stuff now, but grinding through one hundred and twelve pages of full-page psychedoolic sketchbook scrimshaw is what got me from there to here, so this work is invaluable to me as a record of progress, ritual and repetition.
CYA: Have you always carried/worked with a sketchbook? How would you say your work has evolved from your first sketchbooks to your most recent?
DW: I find that it channels my style into a particular estuary where I feel at home. Just me and a few rabid pelicans, hanging out in fetid, shallow water, chewing things over. The work has evolved in terms of the sophistication of the rules and systems, and part of that involves contextualizing systems within the limitations of the sketchbook format. But of course, different sketchbooks stimulate different parts of my personality and summon forth interest in different styles or techniques. I use different sketchbooks differently. And they me.
CYA: You treated your time at the Center for Cartoon Studies as a grad program - how was that experience there? Most people need to be pretty committed to end up at CCS in the first place, but did you find yourself in a different mindset then those treating it as their lone college experience?
DW: Even a shared experience varies quite a bit from individual to individual. I think for the most part I gravitated to the people who were more or less on my wavelength, not in terms of their respective relationships to the program and the institution but rather those who liked to work in ways that were similar to mine, even if the intentions and results were markedly different. The people with whom I worked and got along best I am still working and getting along with today. Some of them earned an MFA and some didn’t. Some stuck around for two years and some didn’t.
CYA: While at CCS you linked up with McFadzean and Warner and founded Irene. Even in the incredibly diverse pool of comic anthologies, Irene has always stood out to me due to the complete scope of work that's collected in each edition. What are your key contributions as an editor?
DW: As an editor, for a given issue, my responsibilities include deciding what we are trying to accomplish and explore, who we should invite to participate, the order in which the contributions should appear and in designing the cover, endpages, table of contents and creator bios. McFadzean and Warner share all of these responsibilities equally with me.
CYA: What kind of work do you individually seek out to include - or is it a fully democratic process between all three of you? Whose work are you most proud to have included?
DW: The nomination and selection process is fully democratic. But the three of us have tendrils into fairly disparate neighborhoods. There’s heaps of respect and admiration between us but not much overlap in our respective styles or the genres in which we mostly work (and the attendant connections and communities within those genres). So we’re all feeding far-flung suggestions and ideas into this common stream and then together we’re sifting through that stream, trying to find the precious specie.
CYA: Along with editing, you're also a key contributor to the anthologies. You did the cover for the most recent book and have done interiors for past editions. Do you approach design work differently or is it just a way of incorporating or borrowing from certain sketches and ideas?
DW: It’s the latter. I regard it no differently; in fact I don’t consider it to be design work per se. It’s on the same continuum as everything else that I do.
I don’t know that anyone appreciates the complex layers of my endpages for Irene 4 but I’m quite proud of them. Those endpages are intended to function at the once as repetitious endpaper patterning and as book indicia but also as a narrative comic with panels and gutters (although admittedly, in the latter formulation, the only narrative action in the entire comic is in the last panel, which is also the last panel of the last page of the entire book and is intended as a sub rosa punchline for the entirety of the issue).
CYA: How do you go about which pieces of your own work you've selected for the anthologies?
DW: Depends what I’m interested in or working on when we’re gearing up for a particular issue. For various issues of Irene, I’ve written stories that were illustrated by lethally capable and savvy illustrators (by my co-editors, in two cases), illustrated a story written by Dakota McFadzean (the only story he’s ever written that was illustrated by someone else) and jammed with the likes of Mark Connery and Power Paola. The best of anything I have to offer at a given moment typically comes out in the pages of Irene, both as a creator in my own right and as an admirer who wants to huckster my favorite cartoonists into collaborating with me.
CYA: The multimedia aspect of your sketchbook is intriguing. Newspaper clippings, musical notation and characters in other languages dot the pages of Mountebank. How much do the words influence what ends up on the page - or is it vice versa?
DW: Sometimes one. Sometimes the other. Sometimes both. Sometimes neither.
CYA: You've recently relocated from the Bay Area to Seattle. Do you see a change in location or a change in community signifying any changes in your work? Have you noticed any recent different inspirations from the change?
DW: Any changes in the work that have developed since the move would have happened eventually anyway; they have probably merely been accelerated by installing myself in a vibrant cartoonist community where I’m surrounded by friends, colleagues and co-conspirators.
I don’t traffic in inspiration; I follow the rules ploddingly and stick to the system, in terms both of the practice and of the context in which I am producing the work. Relocating to Seattle was a tweak in the system and it pays off in productivity. A higher level of productivity will lead to better work because practice makes perfect (or a workable facsimile of perfection).
CYA: With years of material being published all at once with Mountebank, what's next on deck for?
DW: I’ll be signing books at the Fantagraphics table at Short Run Seattle on November 4th, 2017. I have some stuff showing up soon in an upcoming issue of the new Fantagraphics anthology Now. Have some other irons in the fire but nothing definite for now. The only certainty is that I will continue to do the work every day. I’m just a journeyman trying to become a master.
CYA: How many more sketchbooks are you hiding - or will the next project be something of a different nature?
DW: I have four sketchbooks going right now and I’m not hiding none of ‘em! Follow me @kidclampdown on Instagram to see pages from all of them. The two best are my experimental photocopy cut-and-paste sketchbook But I struck one chord of music, Like the sound of a great Amen and my psychedoolic book of hours Those not skinning, can hold a leg. Some or all of those sketchbooks may or may not be involved in or constitute upcoming projects. Rivers reach the sea; other sketchbook drawings and pages will find their way out as needed. I might not get the proper credit for it, but I am the creator of that four-panel “Make me feel used” cartoon, and that was nothing more than a particularly brilliant and insightful sketchbook comic that went viral the moment I chucked it up online. Everyone is required by law to go to their webstore (click!) and buy the sticker and patch.